Researching Your Family Mental Health History
You may not have access to family members from previous generations or their health records. If they are still living and available to you, there may be reluctance on your part to broach a “touchy subject.” However, if access to the people and information is possible, the mental health history of relatives who are further removed from your own immediate family, for example, uncles, aunts, cousins, or grandparents, can be helpful as you attempt to collect all relevant information prior to bringing your child for his mental health evaluation.
Why does it matter? Consider the possibility that your child's grandfather was known to be a notorious hand-washer. While this behavior may in the past have been considered innocuous, or simply eccentric, today it can provide a vital piece of information to assist your child's diagnosis. It also potentially opens up a conversation about other unusual behaviors family members may have noticed in this grandparent. You may be able to find out at what age Grandpa's excessive hand washing began. If this information starts adding up to the likelihood that this grandparent had OCD, and particularly if other sub-threshold OCD behaviors are present in you or your spouse, you would have more reason to closely monitor your child's behavior at an earlier age. Cynthia, a mother of two in her thirties, saw a pattern of anxiety disorders in her family after her seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with OCD.
My daughter has more obsessions than compulsive behavior. Because she didn't do the more common things, like hand washing or counting, I didn't see it right away. I just knew there was something wrong. She would have all these fears and unwanted thoughts. She'd scream and cry that she didn't want to go to school. Bedtime was terrible, too. Now I am diagnosed too, with depression and anxiety. And, when I look back, I can see it in my father, too. He was a hoarder. He couldn't get rid of anything. His house was totally full of stuff by the end. He could hardly walk. So I tell everyone, check your family history! You just might see some of the same behaviors in the past as you see in your kids. If it helps get your child's problem diagnosed faster, all of you will be better off.
In many families OCD or another anxiety disorder will be present in multiple generations. Take a few moments to consider whether that may be the case in your own extended family. Again, this has nothing to do with assigning blame to one branch of the family or another. The purpose of this exercise is to assess whether tendencies or vulnerabilities toward particular disorders may be the result of a genetic influence on your child or children.